India’s literary space is an ever-expanding hotbed for fresh voices, inventive stories and unhindered writing. Many young Indians – armed with just a pen and passionate resolve – are changing the way we interact with literature and how we perceive the world around us. Some force us to question deeply ingrained violent truths, while others shed light on little-known social realities. Through their diversity and creativity, many upcoming authors are collectively challenging, entertaining and captivating global audiences. We put together a short list of our absolute favourites whose works are pivotal in shaping the country’s literary culture.
I. Mimi Mondal
Mimi Mondal is a Dalit speculative fiction writer and editor, born and raised in Kolkata. She co-edited Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler– an anthology of letters written to and from Butler that explores the complexities of race, identity, power, and feminism, and celebrates her impact on generations of women of colour – for which Mondal became the first Indian nominee for the Hugo Award in 2018. She identifies herself as a “dalit punk girl,” bringing to life underrepresented communities and narratives even within the science fiction and fantasy genre, which is largely a separate tradition from mainstream literature. When I asked Mondal what drew her to punk subcultures and science fiction, she said it was the “element of subversion and the possibility of alternate societies in both” and that they both emerged from “humble, anti-elitist roots, and are often about people who have very little inherited privilege.”
“I grew up in the early 2000s through the postcolonial realism and magic realism literature boom in India,” she says. “Stories by Indian writers certainly felt closer to home than stories by Western writers, but they were still not stories about people like me. I am a Dalit woman who was the first child of my family to be born in a city and learn to speak fluent English. [Indian] authors whose works I grew up reading and enjoyed were not really writing about Indians like me and my family, and when they occasionally did, those characters were viewed from an outside, observing perspective, not really from the inside.” Mimi’s work is a testament to how different approaches on the same topic can evoke radically different histories and perspectives: “a ghazal and a rock song can both be talking about love, but they are not received similarly.”
Watch out for her nuanced and beautiful writing in her novelette His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light coming out this January, among other upcoming works bringing attention to South Asians in Science Fiction.
II. Feroz Rather
Feroz Rather, a Kashmiri writer currently pursuing a doctorate in Creative Writing at the Florida State University, has written for several publications and anthologies. His first book, The Night of Broken Glass, has shaken global readers with its intimate look into “the perpetual nightmare of violence we are made to experience in Kashmir.” A book with 13 interconnected short stories, Rather reveals the emotional trauma and disturbing truths about life under military occupation, framing Kashmir through the lenses of religion, caste and gender. What is revolutionary about his writing is not his subject, but the deeply poetic approach that is reflective as much of his heart as it is his soul. “I chose to write about Kashmir only as much Kashmir chose to write itself through me. When you witness violence closely, when you grow up with the fear of losing your brothers and sisters, with the fear of your father you deeply love and respect being slapped in the marketplace, with the fear that an entire people’s life and dignity is in danger, it registers. One might live in places as far away as one could get from Kashmir, but the memory of the desire for freedom remains. The hurt remains. The darkness remains. The bruises and the shards remain. Writing is remembrance. Writing is mourning. Writing is composing endless inventories of grief,” he said in an interview with Platform Mag.
Through a deeply haunting narrative, Rather has established not just his skill and bravery as a writer but his fierce compassion to his subject. “I was so determined to write that I wanted the narrative to triumph. It was very difficult, and I suffered. Every morning I had to go to my writing space with the feeling of a pit in my stomach. I forced myself to confront my misery and the misery of people. I wrote and wrote until I finished because I did not want to betray my subject and be disloyal to Kashmir,” he told Homegrown. The Night of Broken Glass is perhaps one of the most riveting new works to emerge in India’s literary tradition.
III. Aditya Gautam
Aditya Gautam, a freelance writer and sex education trainer – has ventured into one of the least talked about subjects in modern India and has come up with a brilliant, witty product that is as radical as it is refreshing. His recently-released book, Pornistan, provides a shocking, humorous and detailed account of porn consumption (or an epidemic, as he calls it) in such a sexually regressive society.
“Religious dogmas and the patriarchal mindset have been controlling and subverting the sexual discourse in this part of the planet for hundreds of years now. ‘SEX, oh my god, did you just say SEX!’ is the environment we have all grown up in,” he said in a recent interview. Ranging from how parents deal with their kids watching porn, to the changing landscape of romance and relationships that comes with increased access to online porn, to the dangerous impacts of porn on toxic masculinity and the overwhelming lack of sexual education in India – the book is an incredibly relevant piece that traces the history of sex and porn compellingly.
“The book is a sort of sex education guide. It is not just about porn; it is about the science of sexual attraction. Pornistan attempts to educate by delving into the science behind how our brain interprets and reacts to watching pornography. Once we understand the science behind things, it usually sets us free from living out conditioned patterns,” he says.
Without a doubt, Gautam’s fresh voice and unflinching grasp on modern society will be pivotal to the changing landscape of Indian literature.
IV. Samit Basu
While Kolkata-based fantasy/superhero writer Samit Basu is not a new name in Indian literature, his voice is certainly fresh and timeless. He is pioneering an entirely new form of Indian English fantasy writing and inspiring a whole generation of budding SFF writers in India, including those like Mimi Mondal. His breakthrough superhero novels Turbulence and Resistance were published when he was just 23 years old and he has since written several novels, children’s books, graphic novels and short stories.
“I feel really good when I hear from readers – especially readers who became writers, or storytellers in other media – that the books made a difference to them. These, apart from those rare moments when you feel like you’re writing well, are the absolute best moments you can have in this line of work,” he said to Factor Daily.
His work itself is inspired by a multitude of his lived experiences and his feelings about life: “I started out wanting to write a novel about people in a part of the world that needed drastic change, not preservation and protection, suddenly acquiring the capacity to really change things, and achieve the fulfillment of their own deepest desires as well. Which is essentially what Turbulence is. But then once they got these powers, these strange new physical abilities, they’d clearly see themselves as having become whatever the pop culture of the time dictated. If it had happened in ancient Greece, they’d think they were demigods; in today’s world, it would be superheroes.”
As fantasy rises to the Indian mainstream, make sure to check out Samit’s work – both old and new – as it is sure to leave you thrilled and emotionally satisfied.
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